Good afternoon. My name is John McKenna and I'm the president of the Air Transport Association of Canada.
I'm accompanied today by members of our board of directors: Tracy Medve, president of Canadian North Airlines, and Mark Williams, president of Sunwing Airlines. Michael Skrobica, vice-president of industry monetary affairs at ATAC, is also here.
The Air Transport Association of Canada has represented Canada's commercial air transport industry for 75 years. We have approximately 185 members engaged in commercial aviation operating in every province in Canada and providing service to the vast majority of the more than 700 airports in the country.
Bill C-310, in the view of our members, could jeopardize safety, is highly punitive, and could cause unintended adverse consequences both for the industry and for consumers. We would like to focus on four specific elements of this bill that merit serious review. These concern threats to safety; unreasonable financial compensation to consumers; inapplicability in small, remote, or northern regions; and airlines becoming financially responsible for issues beyond their control.
Safety of passengers should be paramount. Accordingly, the Aeronautics Act and the Canada Transportation Act should be respected prior to any consumer rights legislation.
Currently, Canada enjoys one of the safest air transportation systems in the world. The cornerstone of the system is the Aeronautics Act. A key principle of the bill is that the pilot in command decides whether a flight is safe to complete. Bill C-310, under threat of monetary penalty, negatively influences the decision of the captain to undertake a flight.
The bill contemplates exempting airlines from penalties only if an airport has been closed. Airports almost never close and the airports are not currently permitted by regulations to determine whether a flight should depart or land. We believe this bill makes it appear that the authority to make such a decision would be taken away from the captain.
A pilot will also consider the type of aircraft, its load, range of flight, weather conditions en route, its destination, and other considerations. With the decision of whether to depart left in the hands of a third party and penalties on a Boeing 737-200 as high as $120,000, there is a likelihood that pilots would be enticed into risk taking. We're convinced that this is not the intent of the proposed legislation.
Another safety issue is tarmac delays. These delays occur in weather conditions, like snow and freezing rain, that necessitate de-icing of the aircraft. Because airports have installed glycol recovery pads for environmental reasons and there are only a limited number of spots, there is occasional congestion in the lineup to use these pads.
Given that the penalty for an hour's delay on a Boeing 737 could add up to $50,000, there's a clear inducement in a marginal weather situation for a pilot to avoid the lineup. The lesson of the 1989 Dryden accident is that the de-icing must take place.
ATAC recommends that all penalties in Bill C-310 relating to events beyond the airlines' direct control, and all elements that could have potential safety ramifications, be eliminated and that the no-go determination continue to be left in the pilot's hands.
The compensation set out in Bill C-310 bears no relationship to the economic realities of air transport in Canada. Where is the equity in paying $1,200 in compensation to a customer who purchased a $99 ticket to Florida?
The tarmac delays of $500 an hour referred to previously will have every passenger on board eagerly checking his watch. If this indeed is going to compensate the passenger, it should not equal winning a lotto.
Canada has an open marketplace with competition on most routes. If a particular carrier routinely delays or cancels flights, there are generally alternatives available to customers. I would point out that there are no strictures on other transport modes that may experience delays or cancellations, so why air transport?
Let passengers vote with their wallets. Nothing sends out a stronger message than consumers opting for competitors or other modes of transportation when they're not satisfied. ATAC recommends a review of these fines so that, combined, they never exceed the price of the ticket.
Bill C-310 was written envisaging the infrastructure that exists in large airports. Unfortunately, in Canada, circumstances in remote, small, and northern airports are more austere, and communications may be unreliable at best. Some small airports don't even have a terminal building. If an airline flying to and from such a location takes a look at the financial risk that Bill C-310 engenders against a smaller return to flying the route, it is possible that the air carrier will not service these locations, or, alternatively, will provide service on a reduced basis. Was that the intent behind the legislation?
The member for Western Arctic and many of your colleagues from coastal regions could see service to their constituencies severely affected by reduced service during unstable weather seasons. Airlines could simply decide to suspend service to those regions during part of the year rather than run the risk of being penalized on a regular basis because of unstable weather conditions.
ATAC recommends that remote, northern, and smaller communities be excluded from the bill, and that it is not applied to operations that use aircraft with fewer than 60 seats. Most of the aircraft service in small, remote, and northern regions fly within this category. These are all the Beech 1900s; the Dash 8s' 100, 200, and 300 series; the Metroliners; the ATR 42s; and the Convair CV-580s , just to name a few of the planes serving our regions. Also, many jets operate in the north in combi configuration with less than full passenger complement. This could result in a 737-200 operating with as few as 20 seats.
Many of the provisions in Bill C-310 hold the airline accountable for events beyond the direct control of the airlines. Airlines would be liable for weather, ground delays as a result of de-icing paths, congestion, gate availability, and slow snow clearance. Tarmac delays may result from lightning threats that necessitate ground handlers moving indoors. Air traffic control may impose further delays. Is it right to make the airline financially responsible for such issues? The answer is a resounding no.
ATAC recommends that the wording of this bill make a clear distinction of responsibility. Airlines cannot be accountable for delays beyond their control. To make a profit, airlines have to fly their planes as much as possible. Any delays result in a cascade of other delays, inconveniences, and other cancellations, all of which affect passengers flying later that day or even subsequent days using the same aircraft. This leads to lost revenues.
Unfortunately, we have to live with occasional mechanical failures that result in flight delays and, on occasion, the cancellation of flights. A simple instrument warning can lead to a delay to pushback and takeoff while pilots and maintenance crew complete complex checking procedures to ensure the flight can be carried out safely. Airlines certainly do not hesitate to put safety ahead of a good departure record. Certainly it is not the bill's intention to change our commitment to safety.
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce have both come out against this bill, saying it could only result in higher costs to consumers and businesses alike. The air transport industry in Canada is already struggling to be competitive and sustainable, in that it is already considerably burdened with high structural costs, security infrastructure costs, and taxes of all sorts, including the fuel excise tax. The threat of added costs--namely, unreasonable punitive damages out of all proportion to the magnitude of the carrier's revenue on any given flight--could only result in the deterioration of our viable air transportation system for Canadians.
In conclusion, we want to make it perfectly clear that ATAC is opposed to Bill C-310 as it reads today. We feel that should this legislation proceed without substantive amendments, there would be unintended consequences that could lessen safety and ultimately result in reduced service for the travelling public and consumers at large. However, should legislators decide to move forward with this bill, we've prepared a series of suggested amendments, which we have already sent to each member of the committee. We hope that you will seriously consider these amendments, because the safety, quality, and availability of air transport in Canada are at stake.
In closing, I want to reiterate that the Air Transport Association of Canada is opposed to this bill because in its present form, it gives the priority to compensating passengers rather than ensuring the safe operation of an airline. That is unacceptable for the air transport industry.
We thank you for your time and attention. We would be pleased to answer your questions.